So, as you might have gathered from previous posts I’m a bit of a lore buff. The Halo universe is one I’m particularly interested in due to my strong connection with the games, and so I read a lot of the novels and other media and am not against ideally looking through Halopedia to look things up (especially when I wrote that Halo/BSG crossover fan fiction that one time). Having recently played and completed Halo 4 for review purposes, I felt like writing about it and the lore surrounding it because, sadly, it’s not really explained that well during the game itself. So, here I am. Feel free to tune out now if you’re not really into this kind of stuff as it is kind of geeky, even for a gamer.
*** MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT ***
Do not read if you haven’t completed Halo 4’s campaign yet
NOTE: This article doesn’t take into account anything that occurs within the Forerunner trilogy of novels written by Greg Bear (Cryptum, Primordium, Silentium). In all truth, I haven’t actually read them yet but I plan too as it’ll be interesting to see how the ‘official’ version of events is expanded on. Regardless, anyone who knows anything about IP canon knows that the primary source always takes precedence. In this case it’s the Halo games and any material directly linked to that (for example, the Terminals). Anything that happens in the EU books is basically second-class material.
Everything has happened before…
Okay, so the first and most important thing you have to understand is that the Human Race has actually been around a long, long time, technically speaking. Hundreds of thousands of years ago back when the Forerunners were actually around and masters of the Galaxy, Humanity also existed on a technological level that rivalled that of the Forerunners. This is something that’s kind of glossed over in the important Halo 4 plot sequence, and for those who weren’t expecting it it can be kind of a ‘wait, what?’ moment. Hell, even I was like “hang about?” and I kind of knew it was coming, since I’d read up some stuff on Halopedia regarding all this. (The Forerunner trilogy is set during this time period, so there’s a lot of background material already online).
Anyway – The short version, just so you know, is that Humanity was around, we were pretty awesome, but then we had a war with the Forerunners and lost. After we lost, we were kicked back to the stone-age, and after the Halo rings fired and wiped out all life we were one of the races re-seeded, which is where the actual timeline of humanity starts as far as ‘real-life’ goes and then things plod along until we get to the ‘current’ Halo timeline.
The Didact: Motivation
Ok, so even if you haven’t played the game by now you should have some inkling as to who the antagonist of Halo 4 is – The Didact. In short, he is (was) the commander-and-chief of the Forerunner military and the highest member of the Warrior-Servant ‘caste’ within Forerunner society. He also has personal command over the ‘Prometheans’, a special sect within the Warrior-Servant Class (Special Forces maybe?). In order to understand why he hates humanity and why he wants to destroy them in Halo 4, you have to understand three key things: the afore-mentioned war between ‘ancient’ humans and the Forerunners, the fact that that war caused the Forerunners to be unprepared for the coming of The Flood, and that he saw Humanity as a threat to Forerunner superiority and holders of ‘The Mantle’. I’ll deal with each point in turn:
Human-Forerunner War – As mentioned above, Humanity was around long before and in a higher technological state then they are in 2557. What’s also kind of glossed over/hidden in the EU works is that Humanity was also the first to encounter The Flood, and fought a gruelling war against the parasite which they were basically losing. In a desperate attempt to both flee from the infestation and stop it from spreading, they went from world to world and ‘cleansed’ any that were already touched by The Flood (the rest of Galaxy, inc. Forerunners were unaware of The Flood at the time, and Humanity couldn’t be bothered to tell them it seems), including Forerunner planets. As the Librarian-shard states during the game, “Humanity wasn’t expanding, you were running.”
The Forerunners were already aware of Humanity and thought of them as a bit aggressive, but even they weren’t going to sit back and let them kill their own people, and so the Human-Forerunner War raged. The Didact was the commander who led the Forerunner forces, so you can imagine how over time he came to see Humans as nothing but ‘the enemy’. After the war was won, Humanity was ‘devolved’ and reduced to a primitive species, although the Forerunners still left them with potential within their genetics to reclaim what was once theirs, and even take up ‘The Mantle’.
The Flood – As far as the game is concerned++, it’s stated that almost as soon as the Forerunners defeated humanity and kicked them back to the stone-age, they discovered what was really going on. Humanity was running from The Flood and were trying to save the rest of the Galaxy through some extremely tough-loving. Personally, I feel that not telling anyone what you’re doing because it ‘wastes time’ is a bit of a flimsy excuse, but what can you do. The Forerunners – especially the Didact and his troops – had already paid a terrible cost in stopping Human aggression, and so they weren’t really prepared for The Flood when it attacked the Forerunners in turn.
The Forerunner-Flood war waged for a long time, again with the Didact leading a lot of the Forerunner forces, and it was a long, slow grind, one that the Forerunners were losing inch by inch. When it became clear that The Flood couldn’t be defeated through sheer might, other options were considered.
The Mantle – The ‘Mantle’, in short, was a belief system and a way of living one’s life (comparable to Buddhism, perhaps) that the Forerunners subscribed to. In a wider context, the Forerunners believed they held the ‘Mantle of Responsibility’ for looking after the ‘lesser’ races in the Galaxy, helping them grow and protecting them from threats beyond their control. The Forerunners had been around for a long, long time, even when Humanity showed up with all the enthusiasm of a young race with cool toys, and whilst many believed they could inherit ‘The Mantle’ as the Forerunner race declined, The Didact specifically believed that the Mantle of Responsibility was for Forerunners alone and forever, and resented the Humans for trying to assume the Mantle as their own (and for how willing some of his own people were for wanting to give it to them).
The Didact: Plan
So, in short, The Didact was pissed off at Humanity for A/ waging a great war against his species killing billions (inc. his own children) B/ leaving the Forerunners unprepared for the arrival of The Flood and C/ that Humanity dared challenge Forerunner supremacy and attempt to take Mantle upon themselves (through cleansing infested planets and not telling anyone about it). However, at the time, all that was kind of moot as he still had an infestation to deal with. An infestation that was winning.
This is where the Composer comes in: again, the Librarian-shard tried to explain what it did during the game, but basically it was a device that was created during the Forerunner-Flood war as one of the potential solutions, along with the Halo Array, in dealing with The Flood. What it essentially does is ‘digitise’ life and create some kind of digital/organic hybrid, but the project was abandoned because the newly created life form lacked a moral compass, and any attempts to reverse the process resulted in ‘abominations’. Originally the Forerunners were going to use it on themselves to become immortal, but once the idea was abandoned in favour of the Halo Array, the Didact used the composer on his own Promethean Warriors to make them 100% loyal to him, but also make them immune to flood infestation so they could better combat the enemy. The form they took after this transformation is the form you see in Halo 4.
Unfortunately the Didact only had so many warriors at his personal command, and it was rather late in the war to be trying such an ethically questionable stunt, so it didn’t have much effect. In search of new ‘raw material’ to create new soldiers, had a great idea. He would use The Composer on the remnants of humanity – this ensuring new warriors for his army and also getting his final revenge on an enemy the upstarts that had caused him and his a lot of anguish and trouble. It would also prevent them from re-evolving further down the line and trying to assume ‘The Mantle’ once more.
He managed to use the composer on some humans and continue his war, but eventually the rest of his race stepped in – his wife The Librarian was especially annoyed as she had worked hard to create a future for mankind. Whether alone or with help, she captured the Didact and imprisoned him within a ‘Cryptum’ at the centre of his own personal artificial planet (A Micro Dyson Sphere, if anyone cares) ‘Requiem’. The Composer was then taken and stored in one of the other Halo Installations.
The Didact: Halo 4
So now we come to the events of the actual game. For reasons that have not fully been explained yet, the Didact seems to be the only member of his race in existence^, having been sealed in a ‘Cryptum’ by The Librarian so that he could both stop causing mischief, but so that he could also survive the effects of the Halo Array. What Promethean Knights he had left were turned into guards/jailors. However, as you’ll know if you played the game, the Didact managed to trick the Master Chief into releasing him (it seems you can be aware and have limited control over things from within a Cryptum).
Despite his wife urging him to meditate and to come to terms with everything, it seems The Didact is still pretty pissed. Realising though that Humanity had not yet assumed ‘The Mantle’ yet, he still sees a chance to at least have his revenge for all the shit they caused him back in the day. Therefore he seeks to find the Composer again and use it against humanity so he can finally have his revenge and prevent them inheriting the Forerunner’s empire, which is basically the plot of Halo 4 and source of the “An Ancient Evil Awakens” moniker.
I like to sum it up by saying the Didact wants to upload Humanity onto a USB stick and lock that stick in a box somewhere for all time.
Trivia & Notes
* Whilst this is currently under contention, it is my personal belief that the speech the Didact gives after the credits have finished rolling during the ‘secret’ ending is actually from his original trial following his victory over ancient humans, and not some proof that he survived the events of Halo 4. Even though it’s highly likely that he did survive and will return, many people online seem to think that particular speech is from the present, when I think it’s actually from the past.
* ^ It’s not been fully explained what happened to the Forerunners. Some of the EU stuff mentions that many just up and left the local part of the Galaxy for destinations unknown, and the games don’t really shed any further light on the subject, not even through terminals. I always assumed that the Forerunners were unable or unwilling to save any of their species before the Halo rings had to be fired (to prevent the Flood interfering and ensuring they couldn’t be fired at all). I imagine we’ll find out at what actually happened some point down the line.
* ++ There’s some discrepancy between various media regarding the events following the Human-Forerunner war and the start of the Forerunner Flood war… Halo: Legends stipulates that The Flood randomly arrived from ‘outside’ the Galaxy (possibly indicating that the Halo 4 material is essentially changing the original idea), but what ‘officially’ happened is that Humanity drove off the Flood for a time, although not in time to stop them being annihilated by the Forerunners who by that point just saw Humanity as too much trouble to be left standing. The Flood supposedly remained hidden for a while before pouncing upon the Forerunners in turn by arriving from outside the Galaxy, where they hid, although it’s possible Forerunners still knew of them through documentation left over by The Humans. They knew enough to know what the Humans were running from, at any rate.
* The Flood was actually created by the ‘Precursors’, an ancient and powerful civilization who held the ‘Mantle’ prior to the Forerunners. In their tending of the Galaxy, they deemed that the Forerunner race should be made extinct and tried to kill them all off. However the Forerunners rebelled and defeated the Precursors and assumed the Mantle for themselves. The Flood were created as both revenge against the Forerunners, and as a ‘test’ to Ancient Humanity, who the Precursors saw as their rightful successors.
* The Humans were aligned with an ancient version of the Prophet race, who were also kicked back to the stone-age when they lost.
* The Covenant obviously return in Halo 4 as well, and just for clarity so that their deal is this – The Covenant forces you encounter in the game are a ‘sect’ that are highly religious and still believe that the Forerunners are Gods. Via events that you can actually read about in the Kilo-Five trilogy of Novels by Karen Traviss (Glasslands, The Thursday War and an untitled final novel), they learn of the Didact’s existence and his location and seek to free him. Conveniently they seem to arrive at the same time as the Chief’s segment of Forward Unto Dawn.